San Diego was in need of a hired hand. The Padres had a young, talented pitching staff in 2010, but needed an offense to match — well, an offense outside of the one-man show himself, Adrian Gonzalez.
As a small market team, the Padres couldn’t throw money at their problems. But, instead, year in and year out they have to rely on smart decisions and hope they catch lightning in a bottle, tinkering until the concoction of youth and veteran leadership is just right.
San Diego was fighting for air in a playoff race because of its offense.
The Padres needed Ryan Ludwick.
So they traded two marginal prospects as part of a three-team trade that sent Jake Westbrook from Cleveland to St. Louis. And Ludwick’s dependable bat wound up in San Diego.
On paper, it was perfect. But Ludwick didn’t exactly hold up his end of the bargain: he hit .211 with six home runs and 26 RBI in 59 games down the stretch as the Padres barely missed the playoffs. He drove in runs, but his average was 70 points lower than it was in St. Louis (.281) that season.
“I think he’ll be able to tell you straight up, he pressed the situation we were in,” said Padres manager Bud Black. “You know, coming there to bat in or around Adrian Gonzalez. I think he probably put a lot of pressure on himself and I think it affected his performance.”
The plan didn’t work. The Padres missed the playoffs and Gonzalez was traded to Boston.
Now, it’s just Ludwick and a cast of characters around him in the lineup, with no one who instills fear in opposing pitchers. His numbers continue to be down, except for one constant: he’ll always drive in runs. And he’s a calming, veteran presence for Black.
“Ryan brings an experienced player, has been through it all,” Black said. “He brings some stability to our group. He’s a bat in the middle of our order that we need. He’s shown the ability over his career to be a run-producer. He’s always had above-average batting average with runners in scoring position. He has driven in runs.
“He leads the league in outfield assists. He’s made some good plays for us defensively. He’s a very good, solid, experienced presence on our team.”
Ludwick’s name has circulated the league as a right-handed middle-of-the-order bat to be had before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. And in June, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel made it clear he would like to have a right-handed bat added to the team. But that was before Jimmy Rollins caught fire, or before John Mayberry Jr. showed flashes.
Plenty of teams should be interested in the 33-year-old Ludwick, who has posted a .244 average, with 11 home runs and 61 RBI in 2011.
He was charged with protecting one of the game’s best hitters in 2010, and perhaps he could be the right-handed bat to protect Ryan Howard in 2011.
“He’s a guy, when he’s at the plate, we feel good about it,” Black said. “I feel good about it. Something very good’s going to happen each and every time he goes to the plate.”
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